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How to create skills, jobs and innovation through higher education corporate partnerships

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The extent of the pandemic’s disruptive impact on higher education is yet to be fully seen, but the latest research shows that many students who were planning to attend traditional 4-year institutions before the crisis no longer plan to do so. This trend results from not only concerns over in-person classes and on-campus experiences, but also from economic and financial uncertainty — people are now unsure of whether or not they’ll be able to afford it. As colleges compete to attract and reassure this shrinking pool of first-year students, businesses could see the skills shortage worsen over the next few years as people miss out on higher education.

This new development adds yet another reason for businesses and universities to work together in strategic, innovative ways. With stronger higher-education corporate partnerships, both parties unlock a new level of innovation to benefit employees, students, stakeholders and society as a whole. Especially now that the global pandemic has forced many companies and universities to adapt overnight to online learning and remote work, we have an unprecedented opportunity to reshape the connection between higher education and business. Some innovative organizations are already taking the first steps.

Partnerships between academic institutions and businesses have huge potential, because as Jan-Lynne Matern from Emerge Education points out, each group brings their own unique strengths to the table. 

Universities bring:

  • Strong brands and capabilities for marketing to the future workforce
  • Expertise in adult learning
  • Strong foundation for research and innovation
  • Credibility that students want


Companies bring: 

  • Access to employees eager to reskill and upskill
  • Financial support and career-boosting opportunities
  • Up-to-date understanding of industry needs
  • Real-world scenarios to help students apply skills
  • Job opportunities that students need


By combining their separate strengths through innovative partnerships, universities and businesses can achieve three game-changing outcomes:


No. 1: Narrow the skills gap

Modern businesses have historically needed new skills and capabilities faster than universities could provide programs to develop them. What’s more, rising tuition costs and the recent economic downturn will keep many students from pursuing any form of higher education they need — exacerbating an already-significant skills gap in the workforce.

By building closer partnerships, universities and companies can work together to create coursework and even new degree programs that keep students and employees up-to-date with today’s most relevant skills and knowledge. Starbucks and Arizona State University (ASU) collaborated to create a new degree in Retail Management. They defined five critical areas of skills and used Starbucks case studies to bring real-world scenarios to relevant courses. They then built upon this foundation to create the Starbucks Global Academy, with over 60 courses and four learning tracks in personal growth and development, pathways to advanced education, English language and global social impact. Universities can similarly tap into key competencies of innovative businesses to help them adapt their processes, technologies and courses more quickly. 


No. 2: Open career pathways

Stronger connections between education and business create stronger connections between students and employers. In addition to better skills and more relevant degrees, students benefit from increased networking opportunities with potential employers, clearer pathways to jobs and better insight into the careers of the future.

Tech giant Infosys decided to strengthen their connection to students by creating a new company location at Arizona State University’s Scottsdale Innovation Center, SkySong. They created job opportunities for 1,000 new employees who can work while attending classes. These kinds of partnerships benefit universities by improving their ability to attract new students with high job-placement rates. Companies benefit from larger pools of job-ready candidates from top-tier academic institutions. 


No. 3: Unify resources and explore innovative ideas

On the flip side of the gap between the speed of business and university curricula, important research from universities can take years to reach mainstream business. In addition to partnering for skills and employment needs, companies and universities have an opportunity to gather students, faculty, researchers, employees and partners to share and explore innovative ideas, carry out collaborative research and put their combined findings into practice immediately.


An opportunity to strengthen our approach to education, business and innovation

The COVID-19 crisis provides a prime example of leaders and organizations from different industries and sectors coming together to tackle a critical set of needs. It’s already sparked innovative partnerships between governments, organizations and universities to create better opportunities and learning for students and employees. Beyond the pandemic, this kind of collaboration holds the potential for both education and business to generate better skills, better job opportunities and better real-world solutions.

To learn more about the power of Strategic Enterprise Educationpartnerships between businesses and universities, watch our webinar with Michelle Westfort, SVP of Academic Partnerships, here.